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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

London borrows a page from Charleroi, Belgium

Image from The London Plan: Dundas St. future look.
The London Free Press reported the main street of the Southwestern Ontario city may become a flexible street. Flex-streets lack curbs to define pedestrian space and keep traffic separated from walkways.

According to the paper, making part of Dundas St. a flex-street should create a healthy, vibrant core thoroughfare.

Has this been done elsewhere? As a matter of fact, yes: Charleroi in Belgium. Has it worked? That's open to debate. When was the idea hatched? Surprise: almost 20 years ago!

Charleroi has been called the Dark Heart of Europe and the Ugliest City on the Continent (of Europe). An industrial town, like Detroit in Michigan, it lost its industrial base and today is but a shadow of its former self. It has struggled for decades to find new footings. Has the flex-street been a great success? I could find nothing to indicate its been a win-win move. Two decades later, the city is still struggling. And a map of the area posted in French indicates the street today, at least at times, supports two-way traffic. I did find indications that the process is still ongoing. The final chapter for the transformation of Place Buisset has not been written.

Google Street Views: Charleroi street in core transformed into a flex-street.

It was hoped the changes to Place Emile Buisset, changes that respect the area's past, would make the street one of the great pedestrian entrances to a city anywhere. The making of Place Buisset into a flex-street was an early part of the move to make Rive Gauche (the name of the area) a mixture of commercial and residential in a neighbourhood composed of both new-buildings and restored historic ones. The river, once ignored, was to be integrated into the old but reinvigorated city core. (An another link: Link.)

I'm not saying the flex-street as detailed in the London Plan will not work. Flex-streets, river front renewal projects, re-purposed heritage properties and more have worked to varying extents in numerous places. If a city is attempting to restore a faded urban core, these are the approaches frequently taken by today's urban planners.

I'm just saying the London Plan is not a groundbreaking blueprint. The London Plan is business as usual when it come to urban planning in the twenty-first century. And the resistance the plan is meeting from both politicians and developers is also par for the course. No surprises here, either.

A Charleroi city plan of  Place Buisset.
The last hours of the Colonnades
Urban renewal may not be forever
A mall is planned for another area of Rive Gauche

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